Disclaimer: I am not an authority on music, I am a random-ass guy with a niche music taste. Everything I am about to say is from my own perspective, and is not to be taken as a serious evaluation of the projects mentioned.
Sometimes you listen to an album and you think "This album was made for me". That feeling doesn't occur that often, but when it does, man when it does, it's a wonderful bliss that lights up your soul and makes you happy to exist just in time to enjoy the beauty that your ears are witnessing.
For me, the last time I had that feeling was with voljum's dayscapes in 2021, 4 tracks that each hold an entire album's worth of novel ideas and distinctive sounds, all condensed into 5-minute menageries that never fumble once they start. First track off of it is my favorite track ever, period!
Some amazing stuff has come out in 2023 so far. EPROM's Syntheism features sick arrangements of downright robotic experimentations. KOAN Sound's Led By Ancient Light is the peak of the cinematic-electronic-orchestral style that they had been hinting at. Two Fingers and Muadeep's CRONOS is so fuckin' hard and nasty, cleanest basslines I've heard in a long while. But, as amazing as these albums all are, I've personally not had that "This is exactly what I've wanted and it's here" feeling from them, y'know?
Then comes Vorso.
A quite influential electronic producer within the neuro scene. Now, you see, Vorso's previous works all had a big emphasis on sound design. How far can you push the envelope? How weird can you get it to be? That type of shit. And sometimes it works, most of the time it works! But sometimes it puts experimenting on top of musicality. In the words of a friend of mine, "in my mind he was just the sound design guy with the really sharp growl sound".
SPECTRE was great! The Imperative was good. Metamaterial was awesome! Wanderer was a big fat pile of pretty alright. And after a couple more EPs, he stayed silent for a while. Usually when a music producer goes silent they're either quietly leaving, or they have something cooking.
And Vorso was cooking. Holy shit was he cooking.
Holonomy is Vorso's debut album, clocking in at 1 HOUR AND 31 MINUTES. 20 WHOLE TRACKS. That may sound like a lot, like an overly ambitious project that crumbles under its own weight, but no, this is one of the good ones. One of the really good ones. Like, REALLY good. Like, it's been out for 3 days at the time of writing this and I think it might be one of my favorite albums of all time good.
Vorso shows restraint here. If a given part in a track doesn't ask for overly complicated sound design, it doesn't have it. It has an intense focus on raw musicality before anything else. That's not to say it isn't a technical marvel either; the basses in Business as Usual and Offshore Platform are insane, Big Drum is a surprising contrast to the melodic tracks that came before it, managing to make an engaging groove with just a drum and some reverb, and of course Weirdzone serves as a fun departure to showcase just how weird you can make shit sound (spoiler alert: very weird!).
But, although it isn't lacking in it, technicality isn't the main focus here. What sticks out is just how playful this damn album is. Let me describe a couple tracks to you so you can see what I mean.
This is the first track that stuck out to me. The intro by itself jumpscared me with that upbeat jazzy progression (in a good way though). After a sweet, almost chillhop-styled beginning segment, the progression abruptly changes to a more serious one as we enter the build-up. We're still with the saw synths from the intro though.
From a chill, jazzy intro, we get thrown into a drum and bass drop, complete with a plain ol' reese that doesn't do any more than it needs to, and it feels so clean because of that. Pulsating saw synths surround the track, making a hypnotizing groove that makes you want to bob your head. Violently if needed.
The track calms down, recollects itself and we enter the bridge. Though before everything is settled, the second build-up appears a little sooner than expected and BOOM second drop, now with a very fancy synth that you can't quite decipher but it sounds good so what the hell. That's something I love a lot, when you don't really know for sure what you're hearing but you still can't help but vibe to it. I live for shit like that.
Then comes a part I fucking LOVE. You know the reese in the first drop? It's back, now with a vengeance. BREAKS. CLEAN, HARD, BREAKS. VISCERAL. Complete switch-up, then we're back to the main groove, then BACK TO BREAKS, then back to the main groove like nothing happened. Yeah, we did that, we're moving on now, what of it?
The drop settles down, instruments decrease in intensity, we're reaching the end of it. Take out the drums, end with reverb to finish it off. Except, what's that? Holy shit, the chord from the beginning? Oh my goodness it is! A whole other section whose existence can only be justified by the fact that it just feels so right.
Soft, slow, almost fragile, like we're reflecting on the small little journey we had embarked on. It feels like the track is giving you a warm goodbye hug, before it finally sails away. End of track. All I thought of at this point was "what a nice fuckin' track". Little did I know that'd be a consistent theme.
The various progressions in this track make it one of my favorites. 11th chord arpeggios ahoy, as the name suggests. I'm a complete sucker for straight 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, shit like that just makes me happy. And this track goes to quite a few places with them.
The track starts with, what do you know, an arpeggio. Joyous little thing going around and setting the mood for a silly and fun exploration of this peculiar progression. Some more synths come in, then a drop. A slow, halftime section that gets you hooked with its weight, the happy non-serious progression contrasting the almost epic-feeling drums.
Whole track steps back for a bit, then we're dropped into a hella groovy breakbeat section, we're talking TIGHT, PUNCHY shit. 8 bars of that, with a goofy ahh fill in the middle, precede ANOTHER sudden switch-up: HOUSE. WHY DOES IT KEEP CHANGING AND WHY DOES IT WORK SO WELL? By now I'm headbanging like a party-goer at an underground rave. This shit is just MMMH! chef's kiss
The drums leave and we enter the bridge. Really soft piano chords, small and quiet little arps being the cherry on top. But wait, the progression changes. It feels... melancholic. Dramatic, even. Then the track just leaves for a bit. Silence falls for a moment, then... and then.. AND THEN...
A beautiful, messy and stuttery halftime section jumps at you. Something about this progression speaks to the soul, and the intense but emotive way in which it is played only enhances that feeling. But the track isn't done with its whimsy. A 5/4 polyrhythm abruptly appears. Stuff is getting messier, more stuttery, and what's more messy and stuttery than polyrhythms? With a 4-on-the-floor pattern on top, it's almost disorienting. And still so fitting. And still so damn groovy I LOVE IT.
After that whole shebackle, the track settles down, and it takes its damn time to do so. Track's been through a lot, let it take some time to rest, let it simmer down. Gradually it leaves, gracing you with a couple different soft synths throughout, emphasizing the few progressions from the track. Good lord. What a track, man.
Despite the monumental size of the album (beating out Noisia's Outer Edges by 2 tracks including intro and outro tracks), all of the tracks have this level of depth to them. Constant switch-ups, refined sound design, wonderfully hypnotic grooves and basslines, yet the album stays incredibly consistent throughout. I can't be bothered to write in-depth reviews of all the tracks right now, so I'll just mention some more highlights:
• Coastline Paradox has a charming Delay Lama-soundin' vocal in the intro. The entire middle section reminds me of the OST from Hamsterball of all things lol.
• The groove on Facets. Man.
• The middle section of Palindromes where the chords come in, holy shit.
• The intro and main pattern in Dockyards. That damn reverb pluck, God it's such a nice touch. AND WHEN THE DRUMS GET LOUD, HOOOH.
• Main pattern in Holonomy is clean as all hell. Drops that suddenly leave out all the atmosphere from before are awesome too.
• In Shroud, Vorso does his best Mefjus impression (spoiler: it's a damn good one). As far as long-winded electronic tracks go, this one's one of the rare exceptions that don't overstay their welcome.
• THE PROGRESSION IN THE 2ND HALF OF LISTENING STATION.
• The main bass synth in Offshore Platform is so fucking ugly (in a good way). It's pure fuckin' stank. And holy shit THE MIDDLE SECTION IS INSANE.
I'll be honest, while I was expecting a decent, quality album, I wasn't at all expecting something this... wonderful to listen to. Like, yeah, producers eventually build up their discography to a monumental, ambitious album (Mefjus's Manifest, False Noise's Floral Strobe, Hudson Lee's Reflex Angle, etc.), but this one in particular is just plain fun.
Maybe that's why I love this album so much. It doesn't try to be epic, it doesn't take itself seriously all the time, it ain't afraid to be silly and just go places within a single track, and yet it stays amazing from start to end. And, because of that, for me, it is easily album of the year so far.
Thank you for reading my incomprehensible rambling!